Lonely Planet describes the Osa peninsula as "the most picturesque, the most pristine and the most perfect spot in Costa Rica." Much of the peninsula is taken up by Parque Nacional Corcovado, containing the last great original tract of tropical rainforest in Pacific Central America. Lonely Planet goes on to say, "...Osa is the real deal....it's a place for travelers with youthful hearts, intrepid spirits and a yearning for something truly wild." In other words, the perfect place for my mother and I to steal away to for a long weekend.
My mother and I meet in San Jose where we take in the city sites for a day before hopping on a puddle jumper to fly to Bahia Drake, on the Osa peninsula. It is a short and beautiful flight and we soon land on a patch of dirt in the jungle that somehow met the qualifications for an airport. We fish our small bags out of the belly of the plane, and climb in a waiting jeep. Our ten year old driver (okay, maybe he was 13) takes us past some farmland, among coastal jungle, through several very large rivers, and drops us off at a beach. Bahia Drake. He points to a small open motor boat and bids us farewell.
Thankful at the minimum amount of baggage we brought with us, my mom and I wade into the sea, climb in the boat, and speed off to the other side of the Bay. We turn inland on a river and soon pull up to a small wooden dock.
Our bags are grabbed, and we are helped out of the boat and up the stairs. We have arrived at our home away from home for three nights: Drake Bay Wilderness Resort.
Again, to quote Lonely Planet, the resort "occupies the optimal piece of real estate in all of Bahia Drake." Quite right. Situated along the coast at the edge of the Bay, the resort consists of several small wooden cabins situated among beautiful landscaping, all with porches and all facing the water. Breathtaking.
Once we are settled in our simple but comfortable cabin, we head to another building where lunch is waiting for us. As it turns out, my mother and I are two of the only four guests currently at the resort (it pays to travel during the low season!). As the other guests are out for the day, we are served by ourselves in the family style dining room. A bean salad and fresh juice followed by a taco AND a very large burritto. All fresh ingredients, all made from scratch, all insanely delicious. Osa may be the place for "endless opportunities for rugged exploration" for some, but I had an inkling that for us, it may be the place for "endless meals of outrageously good food." Just the thing for our youthful hearts and intrepid spirits!
Our stay at Drake Bay Resort is as a part of a package. Three nights, all meals, and two tours. That evening after dinner (fresh shrimp in an amazing sauce, vegetables, dessert...) we are asked to sign up for our tour the next day. Not sure we were quite up for the "required" trek through Corcovado Park yet, we choose Caño Island as our destination for the next day. A 362-hectare island outside of Bahia Drake that is the tip of numerous underwater rock formations, the island is a popular destination for diving and snorkeling and a "must do" tour for those visiting the area.
That night it pours rain all night long. Knowing how the weather can change easily, however, my mom and I wake up early and head out in the rain to breakfast (coffee served in heated cups, fresh baked cinnamon roles, fruit, eggs, gallo pinto...). The rain indeed begins to peter out and we are sent to "the dive shop" to get our snorkel gear and told to be at the dock in 15 minutes. By the time we get our gear and towels and lunch are loaded into the boat for us, the rain has completely stopped and we are on our way with our guide for the day, Roy, our boat captain, and a couple from another hotel.
We head out through choppy waters to the island, encountering two species of dolphins along the way, which we stop and watch for a while. Again, I am thankful for the, how shall I put it, casual, nature of Costa Rican tourism where instead of being told to keep my lifejacket on and my hands in the boat, Roy hollers at me, "stand up on your seat so you can see! Go climb on the bow of the boat! Look at those DOLPHINS!"
Once near the island we get a quick review of how to snorkel (stick together, try not to breath in any water, and make sure you keep track of your lifejacket you can sling under your armpits for buoyancy). Okay, put your mask and flippers on, grab your lifejacket, climb onto the edge of the boat, and JUMP! "Right" says mom, and, with a little assistance from the captain, she does just that.
Now I should qualify what I am about to say by first letting you all know that despite my love for the ocean I have done very little snorkeling in my life. But, this was the most amazing snorkeling ever! I saw lots of beautiful and colorful small reef fish, and I also had the phenomenal experience of snorkeling among schools of large fish - jacks and grunts and snappers - sometimes hundreds at once. Here's a smattering of other things I can remember, with help from my handy dandy "Costa Rica Field Guide - Pacific Coast Reef Fish": devil ray, stingray, sergeant major, rainbow wrasse, moorish idol, puffer, cardinalfish. I'm sure I'm forgetting many other species, but you get the idea. I was happy.
Lunch on the island (rice and beans, fish, side salad, home made cookies...), more snorkeling, then home for dinner (whole cooked fish, beet and lime juice, salad, green beans and cauliflower, cake, etc...).
That night it poured and poured again, but again, began to clear up over breakfast (fresh fruit, more cinnamon roles, etc...). Today was our Corcovado trip and we were determined to be able to do it. After all, what trip to Osa is complete without a hike in Corcovado?
Another boat ride, another beach landing to the San Pedrillo Ranger Station. Manual, our guide, provides us a geography lesson with a stick on the sand, grabs his high powered telescope and tripod and we are off. The trail is wet and muddy but it isn't raining so we are able to see and hear quite a bit. Though Corovado is huge and many people trek for days within its wilderness, this is a more well-traveled "Corcovado Light" version. The path is well defined and we meet up with two or three other tours along the route. Still, the rainforest is definitely stunning in the way only rainforests can be.
And we do manage to see a sloth, a couple of different kinds of monkeys, bats, a few birds, several agoutis (in the rodent family), pizotes, and lots of insects. Manual is great at spotting wildlife and quickly sets up his telescope for us to get a good look. These pictures were taken from my camera through the lens of the telescope.
After lunch back at the ranger station (delicious food, yummy dessert...), it begins to drizzle. Despite the rain, Manual suggests we go ahead with our planned afternoon hike to the waterfall. Difficult terrain, he says, but only 20 minutes of walking. Now my mother had already been in Costa Rica long enough to know that all short things take "5 minutes" and all long things take "20 minutes" and that therefore "20 minutes" could be anywhere from 25 minutes to two hours, but she is game. After all, when would we ever get this chance again?
We grab our parkas and head off. As we begin to hike through the rainforest, the rain begins to steadily increase. We slog through mud and up and down over roots and rocks. It begins to rain harder. We grab walking sticks. We hike through rivers and along narrow ledges. We avoid trees with spikes and try not to slide down hills. We hike some more. It rains harder. We hike some more.
Yes, it was definitely worth it.
Manual finally says something about "flash floods" and so we grab our stuff and head on back at a slightly faster rate. We climb back into the boat, sopping wet, and speed home in the pouring rain, bodies still, heads down, conversation impossible.
After our warm showers, mom and I head to the bar for a well deserved drink. We are exhausted and exhilarated, wet and proud, and our youthful hearts and intrepid spirits are definitely ready for dinner.